This Week in Ford Racing September 3, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, was this week's guest on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series teleconference. He, along with crew chief Bill Wilburn, spoke about ...
This Week in Ford Racing
September 3, 2002
NASCAR Winston Cup
Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, was this week's guest on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series teleconference. He, along with crew chief Bill Wilburn, spoke about Saturday's race at Richmond in addition to other issues.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS WEEK? "I feel really good about it. We've got a great car for up there. We did a Goodyear tire test and I think we learned a little something up there for NASCAR and Goodyear, where we were trying to evaluate the older tire versus the new tire. My car ran great then. I took a little of that technology up to New Hampshire and we finished fourth that day, so Richmond's always been a great track for me. Plus, we've got an extra million dollars on the line and, man, I haven't won yet this year and I'm really hungry for it, big time."
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE LIKE IN VICTORY LANE SATURDAY HAVING WON A MILLION FOR A FAN? "It would be incredible, it really would and there's gonna be some aggressive driving Saturday night I'll guarantee you. A million dollars is a lot of money and I know whichever fan wins is gonna be one happy son of a gun and I hope I'm the guy who can bring that person a million dollars."
DO YOU EXPECT SOME HOT AND HEAVY ACTION WITH JEFF GORDON THIS WEEK? "I don't know if we expect anything like that. A lot of people accused me of just going down to Richmond and wrecking him. We actually got together in that particular situation and he just spun and I went on. If I get close, though, he can expect a bump-and-run. I guess that's some new terminology that's just come out right now, absolutely."
WHEN IS IT OK TO GIVE A BUMP-AND-RUN AND HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? "I don't think the bump-and-run is something that anybody will tolerate. It's something that happens, but I don't think NASCAR considers that rough driving. I just think that's on the edge of it. If they thought that was rough driving, they would have done something to Gordon. But it was just a deal where if you bump somebody and he wiggles and he slides up out of the groove and you go on and pass him for the win, I guess that's a legitimate bump and run we're talking about now. But if you bump him and he spins and three or four cars get past him, maybe that's another situation. If you bump him and he loses it and he backs it in the wall, it's either his problem that he wasn't able to hold onto the car or else that was rough driving. So all of that goes down into NASCAR's parts, but I can tell you that any driver won't tolerate any of that and they'll file that away in their memory bank."
HOW DO YOU FEEL SALARIES AND PURSES ARE FOR DRIVERS IN NASCAR? "I think that particular portion has definitely made big gains in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. I mean, compared to other sports, we've got a long way to go. I've got to tell you, when you're out there running over 200 miles an hour for four or five hours and you're doing that 36 times a year, I think that we're perfect candidates for more money, that's for sure. But I think that our sport is really in check. We're real accessible to our fans. I do tons of autograph sessions. I do tons of appearances. I love seeing the fans and I don't ever see strikes or anything like that happening in our sport. Although, I will tell you that I think the sport brings so much excitement and joy to people that I do think that the people putting it on -- the owners, the crew people, the drivers, and everybody -- I think we're just as deserving of that baseball- and football-type money."
WHAT ROLE DOES EXPERIENCE PLAY OUT THERE? "I think that the experienced drivers have always been on the top when it's all settled out. Everything is pretty well done. They always seem to rise to the top. It gets right back to been there, done that. They understand what the track does. They understand all types of things like that. This is way different than stick-and-ball sports. Stick-and-ball sports is all about how strong you are, how fast you can run, how good you can catch the ball -- stuff like that. Our sport is more like, 'Man, I've been to this race track 20 times and it does this same thing all the time. I think we should run this spring on past experience,' and the veterans tend to play off of that."
HOW DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS YEAR AFTER YEAR? "This is what I do for a living. This is what I've based my whole living off of is NASCAR Winston Cup racing. I really enjoy it a whole lot. I do stand up in the mirror occasionally and look and say, 'Do I look old? I don't feel old. I don't think I look old.' I know I'm 45 and people think that's old, but I feel like I'm driving better than I have in a long, long time. Not too long ago I sat down and I asked Roger (Penske), my car owner, I said, 'Give me a straight answer. What do you think of my driving?' He said, 'You just finished second in the Pepsi 400. You just almost won the Brickyard 400. You just about won Bristol. I think you're driving better than I've ever seen you drive since you've been driving for the team.' I said, 'Thanks a lot.' I feel really good behind the wheel. The chassis setups nowadays in these cars are so hard to figure out, it's incredible with this hard tire and this super amount of downforce on these cars. But the staying power to run 36 races and keep doing it, I think what keeps us going is I love the sport so much. There is good money in it. I feel like I'm at the top of my game. Nowadays I've got aviation to get me around to all of these different 36 races, whereas in the older days we didn't have that or we had a lot slower airplanes and things like that. I do a lot of appearances and a lot of racing and that schedule is hectic, but I'm able to tolerate right now. I do get tired of being at the race track, I will tell you. My goal is to get to the track, do my best job, and be the first one out of the race track. The stuff of wanting to hang out at the race track all day long and doing all that is gone. When my practice session is done on a Saturday and it's 12 o'clock and it's over, the first thing that's on my mind is getting out to my merchandise trailer and signing two hours for my fans and then getting to the closest golf course because I really enjoy it."
IS THERE ANY STORY ABOUT YOUR CAR NUMBER? "If I didn't have number 2, I'd have number 66. That was my short track number when I grew up ASA racing and I raced all around the south -- Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama -- I ran the whole entire American Speed Association circuit up north when Mark Martin and Alan Kulwicki and myself and Davey Allison -- all these guys were racing together. Number 66 was my number forever. When we got ready to start Team Penske back in 1990, I tried to get that number and it wasn't available, but a good single digit number I've always thought was a cool number. Back then I talked to D.K. Ulrich, who had that number and who was not gonna race the next year, and he gave it up to us. So that's how the number 2 came along, but I guess my favorite racing number for me was 66."
YOUR DAD WAS 6 RIGHT? "Yeah, and now what's kind of cool about this number also is, I don't know if you guys remember the late Mark Donahue driving the Sunoco Can-Am cars for Roger Penske, his number was 66. But Roger Penske's car number when he was driving stock cars was number 02. So the 2 and the 66 were the two top numbers for the team."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE NUMBERS LIKE THE 3 AND 43 RETIRED? "I personally think there are only a couple of guys that could be worthy of retiring a number and, to me, it would definitely be the 43 or the 3. I don't see any other numbers out there right now that have done as much for this sport as those two guys have."
IS THE FACT YOU HAVEN'T WON YET THIS YEAR GRINDING ON YOU? "Yeah, it does grind on me. It's getting deep into the year and I am a bit on the ragged nervous side, so to speak. I really thought that we put a lot of focus on the race going into Bristol. My crew chief, Bill Wilburn, did a fabulous job building me a new car, along with the team. We tested up there and ran really, really good in the test. We qualified real, real good and we were in contention that whole race and finally took the lead late in the race. I thought it was just a picture perfect thing we had going on and I didn't expect that lapped car -- when that lapped car got in my way with three laps to go I said, 'Oh my God, this thing is gonna be tough.' And it happens, but we missed that win. I really thought we had the Brickyard 400 won right at the very end with the two tire strategy and got the car working real good and got it up front. I thought that was gonna happen, but I've won every year now for 16 years and I'd love to keep that winning streak going. If I don't, it's gonna be a sad day over at the Wallace camp, I tell you that."
DO YOU POINT TO CERTAIN TRACKS AND SAY, 'THIS IS WHERE I NEED TO GET A WIN?' "I point to certain tracks in my mind saying, 'Hey, this is where I've got the most wins in the past.' For sure, I'm pointing at Richmond this week and, for sure, I'm pointing to Martinsville. For sure, I'm pointing to Kansas City. Kansas City is a track where I led every single lap last year and then right there at the very end on the last pit stop I got a stop-and-go penalty for speeding on pit road. I was able to make it from last back up to fourth before I ran out of time, but I'm looking at that track real hard. So, yeah, there are a lot of 'em I look at. Phoenix, Arizona has been a good track. Rockingham has been good for me. I could look at the NASCAR schedule right now and look at the very end and say I can win any one of these races. My team is strong enough to win any one of these. I'm telling you that it's almost 100 percent handling. The cars are so close right now that you've got to have that car spot on."
YOU HAVEN'T WON AT RICHMOND SINCE '97. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE SOME UNFINISHED BUSINESS THERE? "Oh yeah. It sure doesn't seem like it's been that long, I can tell you that. Last year, I led the most laps in both races only to get passed by Stewart right there at the very end of both of 'em. This year, I missed the setup a little bit. I just missed guessing on that sealer they put down, but this race I feel much better about it. Like I say, we tested up there and did a Goodyear tire test and ran real well after that race was over. We learned a lot and ran a little bit of that setup going into New Hampshire where the setups are awful close between those two tracks. That's got me very optimistic, plus I've got another million bucks on the line. I'm gonna be driving extra hard that's for sure."
DO YOU THINK THIS RACE WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM THE FIRST AS FAR AS THE GROOVE? "I really think it's gonna be different this time only because they've had races since then and they've had more time to wear that sealer off. There was so much of that crap on the race track last time that it made the car so sticky that you wanted to run the fastest way around the race track, which was on the bottom of the track. Now, if you went up to the second lane you could run up there, but you just wouldn't run as fast as you would on the bottom. Now, hopefully, that sealer has worn off a lot. I know they just finished another tire test up there that Tony Stewart was at and he told me he thought the track was back like it usually was then. They ran a lot of laps in the second groove on purpose and they thought the track came back. I think they had the IRL race up there and now they've got another Busch Grand National race that's gonna be up there this week, so I think the track will be back to the way it usually is where that second groove comes in."
HOW DO YOU CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS IN THE CAR? "It's really hard. If I was four wins into the year or already had a couple of victories and that happened, I'd go, 'Oh, that's a bump-and-run.' But with no victories and that race being targeted like crazy, and with two laps to go that happens, it was a really tough thing to handle and I'm still not over it."
HOW HAS THE TIRE AFFECTED PIT STRATEGY? "The performance of the tire has been incredible this year. The tire has been fabulous. The problem is it's been too fabulous. The cars have got so much aerodynamic downforce on 'em it's incredible. There's a lot of downforce on the back and because of that, Goodyear has had to really toughen the tire up. The tire's gotten so hard that it'll run for a long, long period of time before giving up. On a smooth race track that's not hard on a tire, like a Michigan, a California, you can run for a long time on tires. You can come in and do just right sides or sometimes just stay on the race track and not even pit. Now, at tracks like Rockingham and Darlington, which are notoriously hard on tires, and tracks like Bristol -- the last time those guys could run a long time on tires, but this time we pitted with 150 to go and were able to get back to the front on those fresher tires. It depends on the smoothness of the track, the roughness of the track, stuff like that about when two tires, four tires, no tires are the way to go. But, for the most part, these tires have been incredibly tough. Now with the new Chevrolet coming out next year and the Pontiac and the Ford and the Dodge, I hear now that all the rear spoilers basically look the same, the downforce is gonna be almost identical. At that particular point, then it's gonna be the right time to go to the track with shorter rear spoilers and let Goodyear bring softer tires back. Then the tires are gonna wear more and then you're gonna see a lot better racing."
WHAT ABOUT SMALLER FUEL CELLS AT TALLADEGA? "The only thing that's gonna do is just try to have more pit stops so it'll shake up the field more so the cars won't be bumper to bumper. I don't think it's gonna have any effect on how the cars handle or anything like that. I think at the start of the race you're still gonna see the big pack until the first pit stop and then you'll still see big packs. It'll take about 10 or 15 laps for everybody to gather it back up. I don't expect it to be a big, big deal, but I do expect to see more packs instead of one big pack."
JEFF GORDON SAID TONGUE IN CHEEK THAT HE DID TWO FAVORS FOR YOU. ONE, THAT NASCAR WOULDN'T PENALIZE YOU IF YOU HIT HIM AND TWO, YOU WOULDN'T EVEN HAVE TO THINK TWICE ABOUT IT. YOUR THOUGHTS? "I don't know, those are his words. I like Jeff. Don't get me wrong, I like him a lot and I just wanted to win real, real bad. I won't do anything to hurt a driver, I'll guarantee you that. I would never do anything like that. All I can say is if I'm close enough to win the race like he was, he's gonna get the bump too. I don't know what else he's talking about or referring to, except I can tell you he wanted that win real, real bad, too. He was thirtysome races without a win and I'm more than that and that's real unusual for me and my team. It's gonna be fun. I know everybody is on the edge of their seats and if I do bump him and he does spin, they're gonna say it's a payback when it really could not have been. It could have just been a racing accident that particular time."
BUT IT COULD BE A PAYBACK? "No, I didn't say that. I'm not gonna spin anybody out and wreck him for a payback. If I get close enough to bump him and get past him, I'll absolutely do that, though."
YOU DID A MAKE-A-WISH APPEARANCE IN TOLEDO RECENTLY. HOW MUCH OF THAT KIND OF THING DO YOU DO? "Anytime I can do things like that which will fit into a schedule and make sense, I love to do them. That was a big, big deal. There were a lot of people there and we raised a ton of money. I think we had over 1,000 people in the room and it was huge. They say they've had a lot of football players, a lot of baseball players and I came in as a stock car driver and it was the largest crowd they had, which says a lot for NASCAR. I was real excited about that, but they raised a lot of money and it was fun. Those things are really fun to do and I'll continue doing them. The ones that are tough to do, we get tons and tons of requests coming in at our office for items and I send out items every single day whether it's jackets or hats or things like that for charitable things, but I've got to tell you, we're really getting bombarded with it and that's why I try to be as selective to what is a good deal and what is a big deal that can really make a dent in the world. I thought 1,000 or 1,500 people up in Toledo for Make-A-Wish was a neat deal."
ONE LEATHER JACKET WENT FOR $1,500. "I sold one of my uniforms last year down in Florida for a Boys and Girls Club benefit and I think the uniform went for 18,000 bucks. It's just incredible that you can get some people together to spend that much money on things, but it was all for a good cause. That's one thing the media never does hear about. We always do things like that. We do a ton of that type of stuff that doesn't get noticed, but I don't do it to get noticed, I do it to help raise money and do some right things."